It’s an exciting time for the helicopter industry—new innovations and upgrades are on the forefront of technological development for Helicopters. Advancements in overall structure, engine components, and design are changing the way we conceptualize— and use—these aircraft. Traditional rotor systems are getting a facelift, and Bell is one of the companies paving the way for the future of helicopter operation.
Conventional rotor systems in modern helicopters suffer from technological advancement nuances. High vibratory loads, susceptibility to ground resonance instability, low control power, and poor performance in high speed/load conditions are a few examples of areas for improvement. To counter these deficiencies and expand a helicopters potential, many new rotor systems are being researched and developed. One in particular eliminates the tail rotor completely using a method called an anti-torque system. The tail rotor is replaced with a large fan, or blower, that blows air in the same direction the helicopter is traveling. A natural torque factor is applied between the main rotor and the helicopters fuselage during flight, necessitating a balancing counter torque force. Creating this force can be achieved with an internal fan that produces a large amount of air flow. There are several advantages for having an internal fan as opposed to an external rotor; among them are increased safety and lesser probability for rotor stall.
Bell, a leading manufacturer of helicopter, is a prime example of the rapid advancements occurring in helicopter technology. The company is currently developing new anti-torque systems and revamping the way helicopters perform, look, and operate. Bell engineers are researching a hybridized propulsion engine system. This will combine advanced thermal engine cores with electric distribution and motors to power the anti-torque system, resulting in better control and simpler vehicle operations. They are also exploring the implementation of morphing rotor blades, changing the way aircraft fly. This technology enables the aircraft rotor blades to transform according to different flight regimes and conditions. The ends of each blade have the capability to shift, angling to the right for better maneuverability.
Another innovation on the forefront of Bell’s agenda is next generation flight control technology. At the heart of Bell’s “fly-by-wire” system are three independent flight control computers. Once the computers receive digital commands from the pilots, the system calculates the optimal method to achieve the directive; ensuring the aircraft is operating at peak performance and is supported by extra redundancies.
These new technologies have made their way to the military as well. The military has adopted the idea of getting rid of tail rotors; they are looking to revamp their fleet of helicopters by 2030. The new Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant is designed with two counter-rotating rotors and a push propeller that takes the place of a tail rotor. This allows the aircraft to maneuver better and travel faster than ever before, reaching speeds of 287 miles per hour. The Defiant is planned to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk, which has been in operation since 1979.
Keep an eye out for exciting next generation systems as Helicopters approach this technological revolution.
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